Two things came up today that made me think about the way in which social media—and Twitter, especially—rewards obfuscation. More precisely, it frequently punishes people who say things a little too clearly. A lot of this has to do with technical aspects; character limits, for example, mean that a meandering, vague statement lacks the easily-spread punch of “We tortured some folks.” The constant stream means that, generally, only the most notable words get noticed. (I mean this in a literal sense: your eyes gloss over, so that if a few words don’t jump out, you literally don’t see it. Think about how you do this subconsciously all the time when you scroll through your Twitter feed, in the same way that your eyes never go to the parts of pages where banner ads live.) We’re now in an environment where when the president, while defending the CIA, admits that America tortured people, everyone focuses on his word for people instead the part where America, our country, tortured a non-singular number of people, and now the president admits it, and sure it was bad, but he still stands behind the people who did it. Yes, “folks” probably wasn’t the best option here, but like, how is that the thing you focus on! We! Tortured! Some! Folks. There are three more important words in that sentence. Imagine: "Honey, I need to confess something. Last weekend, after Shakespeare in the Park, I fingerblasted the babysitter." "You did what?!? I haven’t heard that term since 9th grade lol."
Similarly, everyone was up in arms over a now-removed op-ed called “When Genocide Is Permissible.” Obviously the follow-up to that weirdly phrased almost-question should be “Never,” but: A) It’s been reported that as much as 95% of Israelis approve of their country’s actions in Gaza (I’m not sure it’s actually that high, but it’s clearly something with wide approval). B) The situation in Gaza already is, or is rapidly approaching, the standard definition of genocide (the deliberate killing of a large group of people, especially those of a particular ethnic group or nation). Which means that, in the minds of many of the people in Israel (and their supporters elsewhere), this genocide is permissible. One guy had the lack of PR sense to say what millions believe, and now, instead of being something we can point as evidence of the abject inhumanity of the situation, the post has been deleted. I’m not arguing people shouldn’t have been up upset about the article, but it’s so unfortunate that we’re coming to a world where you can do almost anything, so long as you make sure the verbs will be spread out over many long, boring sentences.